OCEAN CITY — A petition drive is underway, led by a grassroots recreational fishermen’s organization based in the resort area, to urge the government to reverse a decades-old moratorium on fishing for striped bass in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a 200-mile swath of open ocean just outside the state’s three-mile band closest to the shoreline.
Let Us Fish, a non-profit, locally-originated and Internet-based organization of recreational anglers, and some of their commercial fishing brethren, is seeking the deregulation and opening of the striped bass fishery in the EEZ, a fertile 200-mile area just outside the three-mile limit of state waters. The EEZ has been off limits for striped bass fishing, recreational and commercial alike, for 20 years after a moratorium on the state’s official fish was put in place because of the fragile status of the species’ population.
Over 15 years ago, the species was declared officially restored and the moratorium was lifted in state waters including the Chesapeake Bay, but the fishery remains closed in the EEZ despite overwhelming science that supports reversing the closure. Ironically, the federal Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFS) reported in 2009 the Atlantic striped bass population completely restored, while its parent agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has turned a deaf ear on repeated efforts to restore the fishery in the EEZ.
“We are all for regulation and its enforcement,” said Let Us Fish founder and director Colin Campbell of Berlin this week. “However, this three-mile line regulation needs to be revisited. It was created during the Chesapeake’s striped bass moratorium, indeed a time of crisis for the species, but the law should have died though when the species was declared fully recovered.”
In the meantime, recreational and commercial anglers in Ocean City, Maryland’s only Atlantic Ocean port, have not been able to target striped bass in the fertile EEZ despite strong numbers that indicate the species is thriving off the coast of the resort. Instead, they have been relegated to the sidelines of a potentially economic juggernaut of a fishery. Recreational anglers and charter boat captains rarely meet the two fish per angler requirement in the state waters just off the coast, and commercial fishermen almost never meet their quota for the species.
“The three-mile law’s time has passed,” said Campbell. “The population has recovered. We think this is a terrific financial opportunity for Ocean City and the state of Maryland. Charter fishing, tournaments and tourism all could be significantly bolstered by allowing these services to take advantage of going where the fish are, during the fall and winter seasons.”
Let Us Fish has three stated goals, including opening a dialogue with the agencies responsible for closing the EEZ to striped bass fishing, continuing with the current two fish per man recreational quota and discussing size limits and creel limits that make the most sense in terms of conservation, and finally, seeking a more aggressive tagging program with incentives while working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Each of the stated goals, if accomplished, would work in concert to ensure the continued health of the species while creating a potentially enormous economic opportunity for the struggling recreational and commercial fishing industry in the resort area. However, the Let Us Fish campaign is not limited to just Maryland and organizers are reaching out to fishing communities from Maine to North Carolina faced with the same oppressive federal limitations.
To that end, Let Us Fish has launched an aggressive petition drive in hopes of mobilizing recreational and commercial anglers up and down the Atlantic coast that are all in the same boat, so to speak. Those interested in joining the campaign can do so at www.LetUsFish.org.